When I hear the term Kindle I think not of imaginations fired but of crematoria lit. And when I hear the term "hi-tech" I think not of helpful androids efficiently performing household chores or light-speed rockets gliding seamlessly through space but of the fact that between 1933-45, modern technology was used to perform in ever more efficient ways the mass murder of six million of my people. The instruments of so-called progress, placed in the hands of the modern state, disappeared six million Jewish men, women and children, into a void from which they will never return and in which a majority of them remain forever unidentified. This was done in the name of progress by means of technology for the creation of a better world.
The Nazis often were, by their own lights, well-intentioned idealists working for a better tomorrow. And their instrument was modern technology, aspects of philosophical and aesthetic modernism and the old religious concept of supercession implicit in the Christian notion of progress. Jews were outmoded, useless, they said. Most high level Nazis, like Himmler or Heydrich or Eichmann, did not feel visceral hatred towards the Jew. Rather, they looked upon them coldly as something that simply needed to disappear so that the new life could get on its way. And the means by which they sought to do so was first through a propaganda campaign that portrayed Jews, in Wagnerian terms, as a drag on the visionary energies and bursting vigor of the new Aryan man, and then by the implementation of this decision to eliminate Jews through ever more sophisticated state corporate and scientific technological means. And yet, during the war crime trials at Nuremberg, while Nazi Jurisprudence was tried and hanged, Nazi technological attitudes were not put on trial.
The victorious Allies did not mandate that technology, which had been turned to such murderous ends, must pass an ethical standard review from an international body, like a UN of technology. No such body of decision came about. To the contrary, even while the war crime trials of Nazi chieftains were in session, American and Soviet governments were recruiting high-level Nazis to their intelligence services, military armaments industries, and space programs. So that, while in jurisprudence terms Nazi social and political values were delivered a blow, the Nazi fascination with technology merged seamlessly with that of their conquerors: us.
That is why today we drive Volkswagens, which were invented by Hitler, and use space heaters from companies that may once have manufactured crematoria and why Werner Von Braun, the Nazi father of the V-2 rocket became an American space pioneer hero studied in public schools. Nazi Technology and corporate methodology was folded handily into American feel-good Capitalist culture. That is the very point of the brilliant satire, "Dr. Strangelove".
So that now, sixty four years after the Holocaust, the Nazi disdain for the book has become the feel-good Hi-Tech campaign to rid the world of books in place of massive easily controlled centralized repositories of book texts downloadable on little hand-held devices and from which a text can be dissapeared with the click of a mouse: in Nazi terms, a dream come true.
How grave was Nazi contempt for books? As response to the book burnings in Germany, in the May 11, 1933 issue of Chicago's Daily Worker, (and years before the first fully operational death camps opened their furnace doors), a grim cartoon entitled "Altars of the Nazis" portrayed two smoking crematoria of equal size, placed side by side, one marked "Nazi Victims" and the other "Condemned Books". The link between contempt for books and mass murder could not be more clear.
President Roosevelt, recognizing the threat of Nazi attitudes to the book, launched a full-scale government campaign, and declaring it part of the national war effort, said: "...books...embody man's eternal fight against tyranny. In this war, we know, books are weapons."
In World War II, people died to produce and protect books. Anti-Fascist organizations, American Jewish Groups and writers, editors and journalists launched massive demonstrations in defense of the book, including, on March 10, 1933, the largest march, to that date, in the history of New York City: 100,000 people turned out to express outrage at the burning of books and other events in Germany. In its coverage of the Berlin book burnings, Newsweek used "Holocaust" as its headline.
Today's hi-tech propagandists tell us that the book is a tree-murdering, space-devouring, inferior form that society would be better off without. In its place, they want us to carry around the Uber-Kindle.
The hi-tech campaign to relocate books to Google and replace books with Kindles is, in its essence, a deportation of the literary culture to a kind of easily monitored concentration camp of ideas, where every examination of a text leaves behind a trail, a record, so that curiosity is also tinged with a sense of disquieting fear that some day someone in authority will know that one had read a particular book or essay. This death of intellectual privacy was also a dream of the Nazis. And when I hear the term Kindle, I think not of imaginations fired but of crematoria lit.